Tuesday, January 27, 2015

There will be motorcycles in Super Bowl ads. There just won't be any ads for motorcycles, and that sucks

As the Super Bowl approaches, TV advertising becomes a topic of conversation because ordinary consumers recognize that it is the ad industry's "big game" too.

For years, Master Lock—a small company, compared to most Super Bowl advertisers—dared to blow their entire annual media budget on a single commercial in the game. It was always the same basic spot; a guy shoots a bullet clean through a Master padlock with a high-powered rifle, but the lock holds. That advertising strategy helped Master build a solid brand in that category, and it was proof that taking an expensive risk—because Super Bowl spots are very, very expensive—also delivered a big reward in terms of customer awareness and recall.

Every year, I bemoan the fact that no motorcycle manufacturer has the balls to run an ad in the big game—the kind of ad that would reach a wide audience with the goal of not just selling a bunch of bikes, but selling the very idea of motorcycling. Surely it's not that the sport of motorcycling doesn't lend itself to advertising. If you can make a great TV ad about a padlock, you sure as hell could make one about a motorcycle.

I've already written about Honda's famous 1964 "Nicest People" campaign. That campaign broke during the Academy Awards telecast, which was the most valuable ad time in the world, at that time. (The first Super Bowl was still three years in the future, and it would be some time before the NFL grew into the commercial behemoth it is now.)

Honda hired Grey Advertising—a top ad agency in the 1960s. One of the problems with motorcycle advertising today is that manufacturers have chosen to work with agencies which are not in advertising's big leagues. The one notable exception was Harley-Davidson, but even they dropped Carmichael-Lynch after years of excellent creative.

In 1964, Honda spent $300,000 on its Academy Award ad buy. Corrected for inflation, that's about $2,500,000 in today's money. So not quite in present-day Super Bowl ad territory—the nominal cost for a 30-second spot in Super Bowl XLIX is about four million bucks.

But look at it this way: $300,000 was the equivalent of Honda's gross revenues on 1,200 units of its best-selling motorcycle.

I don't know what American Honda's best seller is today, but whatever it is, I bet that if the company was willing to spend 1,200 times that revenue, it could afford a spot in Sunday's game. Obviously, the people running the company today are playing with deflated balls, compared to the guys calling Honda's plays in 1964.

Ironically, I also bet that more than one ad will feature a motorcycle cameo. All kinds of other brands include motorcycles in their spots these days, because they know motorcycles are hip and all-round awesome. Think about that: the guys making those other brands' ads are using valuable screen time to show you motorcycles they don't even sell, just to make whatever they are selling more appealing. Imagine how excited those Creative Directors, Copywriters, and Art Directors would be, if they were ever given the chance to advertise a motorcycle.

You know that cool ad agencies are full of hipsters who already commute to work on caf├ęd-out CB350s and chopped Ruckuses. Or is the plural of Ruckus, 'Rucki'?

Irony #2: Loctite is advertising in this year's Super Bowl. Yes, Loctite. They sell those little tiny bottles of goo, that you put on your nuts, before screwing.

Sorry, that was a cheap shot, but I couldn't resist it. But seriously folks. Loctite dares to risk an obviosly huge chunk of its marketing budget, promoting a product—shit, a category—that most Super Bowl viewers don't even know exists.

You know who does know what Loctite is? Everyone who works in the motorcycle industry. I hope they're paying attention to Loctite's sales numbers and awareness over the next year.

1 comment:

  1. I note from the photo that the homely GL500 is finally hip.

    The race goes to the tortoise, not the hare.